Thursday, August 18, 2011
A is for Mrs. Ascher in Andover, B is for Betty Barnard in Bexhill, C is for Sir Carmichael Clarke in Churston. With each murder, the killer is getting more confident—but leaving a trail of deliberate clues to taunt the proud Hercule Poirot might just prove to be the first, and fatal, mistake. -- Harper
It's time again for another Cool Down with Agatha Christie readalong! This week, I am hosting a discussion of THE A.B.C. MURDERS by Agatha Christie. THE A.B.C. MURDERS was a new-to-me read, and I have to say that I was quite impressed with all of the twists and turns. I'm not entirely sure it's going to go down as one of my favorite AC books, but I was still blown away by Ms. Christie's ability to weave a good mystery!
For those of you not familiar with this book, THE A.B.C. MURDERS tells the story of a very unique serial killer on the loose in England. The murderer is targeting his (or her) victims and locations based on the alphabet, hence the title. For example, the first murder is Mrs. Ascherin in Andover, the second in Betty Bernard in Bexhill, etc. The murderer is sending Hercule Poirot taunting letters which give warnings as to the dates of the murders, but it appears that he is one step ahead of the famous detective. Can Hercule Poirot figure out the murderer and the motive behind the madness?
I actually loved how different THE A.B.C. MURDERS was that some other Agatha Christie books that I've read. It was more about the psychology surrounding a serial murderer instead of a traditional whodunit, and I loved how it taxed Poirot's brain. The "murderer" is presented to the reader early on in the novel and the real question for Poirot was the "why." He admitted that the murderer was a madman but he also knew that there was a great deal of planning involved in carrying out these murders. He couldn't put his finger on the motive behind the murders, and it wasn't until his friend Hastings mentioned something in passing that everything started to come together for him.
While I was highly entertained by this novel, I also found my reactions to this story to be interesting. Even though the murderer was "outed" at the beginning of the novel, I had a sneaky suspicion that he wasn't the murderer. I just couldn't believe that Ms. Christie wouldn't have something up her sleeve. However, because I kept doubting who the murderer was, I became frustrated that I couldn't figure out anything -- not the murderer, the motive, etc. I guess my feelings were pretty similar to Poirot's! As the story began unraveling at the end, I wasn't necessarily surprised by the culprit, but I was shocked by how twisted and complex the resolution was. There is absolutely no way I saw any of it coming. And that's one of the reasons that I adore Agatha Christie -- she always manages to surprise me!
As part of my preparation for this discussion, I discovered some interesting things about THE A.B.C. MURDERS. First of all, the book was originally published in 1936 and sold in the U.S. for $2. I know I should be surprised that this book is 75 years old, but I am just amazed by how "current" this book seems. There were definitely references to that time period, but I swear the book could have been written today. So much of what occurred in this novel is still relevant, and I guess that's why she's "The Queen of Mystery."
In addition, Ms. Christie has some special references to her other books in THE A.B.C. MURDERS. In Chapter 1, she refers to a situation in THREE ACT TRAGEDY as well as one in THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. In Chapter 3, she mentions Poirot's idea of a perfect crime which later appears in FOUR CARDS ON THE TABLE. And in Chapter 19, she references the book THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES. I was only able to catch the first reference, but I love how smart she was!
And finally, THE A.B.C. MURDERS has been adapted into a few other works. There was a 1965 movie adaptation which was called The Alphabet Murders with Tony Randall starring as Poirot. And a second movie was made in 1992 for the television series Agatha Christie's Poirot with David Suchet playing the role of Hercule Poirot. This adaptation had a few character and plot changes including what happened to the murderer at the end. (I won't give that away here!) There has also been a video game and a four-part anime based on the novel.
Now it's your turn. You can answer as many or as few of these questions as you like. Or, you can bring up some ideas of your own!
1) I'm almost always amazed by the many twists and turns in Agatha Christie's novels. Were you surprised with the conclusion of THE A.B.C. MURDERS? Did you have any suspicions about the murderer?
2) How did THE A.B.C. MURDERS compare to other Agatha Christie books that you've read? Would you say it was one of your favorites?
3) I have to admit that I really thought the murderer was toying with Poirot with his letters -- that the motive behind the murders might be personal and, therefore, somehow linked to Poirot. I was absolutely shocked with the resolution of the case -- not so much because of who the murderer was, but rather because I kept looking for the link to Poirot. Was it just me? Or did you have a similar reaction to the letters and the motive?
4) I found Poirot and Hastings' relationship to be quite entertaining; however, I was a little bit surprised by how Poirot treated him. (I found it to be a little degrading, but maybe he was just teasing?) Did you find it ironic that Hastings was actually the one whose practicality helped Poirot to solve the crime?
5) Ms. Christie's writing style is a little different in THE A.B.C. MURDERS -- she combined first and third-person narrative. To make things even more unusual, the third-person narrative is reconstructed by Hastings, the first-person narrator. Did you appreciate the two "different" narrators? Did this presentation style work for you? What were the benefits (if any)?
Two participants in today's discussion have the opportunity to win a "cool" Agatha Christie prize pack including a surprise AC gift! So remember, when you leave your comment, please leave an email address!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this novel.